Does your relationship need a makeover?

BE NICE: While it may feel like you are being selfish by putting yourself and your relationship first, good communication, listening and connecting with your partner this festive season could save your marriage.
BE NICE: While it may feel like you are being selfish by putting yourself and your relationship first, good communication, listening and connecting with your partner this festive season could save your marriage.

It can be tough to make time for your partner during the year and even more so over the festive season when you are dealing with the added pressure of extended family, Christmas shopping, kids at home and fatigue from a long year.

Getting the regular chores done plus all the extras that come with Christmas and the school holidays can bring added stress. Little things like who should take out the rubbish could turn into a monumental argument. Rather than creating stress, the summer holidays could be the perfect time to work through any issues and talk about what you want out of your relationship in the coming year.

Save yourselves

Jo-Ann Vivian- National Practice Manager at Relationships Aotearoa, who has had years of experience working with families, says you need to be clear about what you want out of Christmas and the holiday season from the start.

"Sit down and make a really clear contract with your partner and family about what you want this year's Christmas season to be," she explains.

"I think especially for couples with children, figuring out how you can have good quality couple time is vital."

This might be as simple as putting the kids to bed early and having a romantic evening together, or getting together with friends who have children the same age as yours and between you baby sitting for each other."

One evening you could have your friend's kids over and let them have their date night, the next week, they can return the favour.

While it may be tempting to use the time with the kids out the house to spring clean the linen cupboard or the garage it's important to make the time about each other.

"One of the ways to stop yourself from feeling guilty about spending time on yourself, because you my think there are more important things to do, is to ask yourself what the end result is that you want," explains Vivian.

"If you keep being busy and doing for other people, the end result is that you are likely to feel tired and grumpy and stressed and you won't have so much to give yourself, your children and your partner."

Vivian says the airline instructions to put on our own oxygen mask before helping others applies in this case too.

"If we don't look after ourselves, then it is hard to be a good partner and a good parent."

The "D" word

According to Statistics New Zealand 8551 divorces were granted in New Zealand during 2011, which means there were 9.8 divorces for every 1000 estimated existing marriages and just over one-third (35 per cent) of couples who married in 1986 had divorced before their silver wedding anniversary (25 years).

The disintegration of a marriage obviously doesn't happen overnight and it's not possible to fix everything in  just a few days, but it is possible to take the time to look at where you both are as individuals and as a couple and use the time now to make positive changes.

"One of the difficulties with the holidays especially is that our expectations are very high and we hope that we will have time to relax, time to do fun things and we will cram all of our connecting and planning into that space as well," says Vivian.

"I think it is true that if you don't have a habit of talking to each other about important issues and how your relationship is going during the year, it's not going to suddenly come as second nature at Christmas time."

If you find it hard to bring up emotional or touchy subjects then start off by simply trying to do more things together.

"Even before you talk, I would recommend couples doing something together so that there is some shared connection. Talk to each other about what the one thing is you would like your partner to do for you over Christmas," says Vivian.

"It doesn't have to cost lots of money, for some it be a romantic evening in with massage oil and soft music and whatever comes next, for others it might be a walk on the beach, or going to a sports game- but it's about giving to the other person what they would like and having that reciprocated. Which is really special."

Vivian says that through this process, we are more open to listen to what the other is not happy about in the relationship and how we can work together to fix it, without getting defensive.

Unloading a laundry list of everything you think your partner has done wrong over the year is likely to result in a defensive response.

"It's best to avoid heavy discussions when you are tired too. Sometimes it really is better to let things go and wait for the next day. Words do wound and often arguments and tension do come from a person feeling they are carrying an unfair load or they haven't been listened to," says Vivian.

"If you can, talk before Christmas and discuss what you do want. Couples need to agree on this, so it really is a joint agreement and not just one person's agenda."

Just do it

You will need buy-in from your kids if you want to make changes in your relationship. The success of making time for each other and keeping stress at a minimum depends on the whole family getting involved.

Financial pressures might add up over the holidays season, especially when it comes to presents. The constant barrage of pamphlets, advertising and incessant "must- have" messages add to the expectations of a "bigger and better" Christmas.

However, you can be clear with the family that if the budget is tight, you need to think of ways to have fun and make memories that don't have to cost a lot of money.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with all the extra chores, spring cleaning and organisation that has to happen, sit down with the kids and get them to share the load.

Get everyone involved in helping out on Christmas day so it's not just one person running around after everyone else.

"Depending on how creative you want to be, especially with school-aged children, you can get them involved in a family discussion about what you want to do differently this year," says Vivian.

"You want your kids to get into the spirit of being decision makers and thinking about other people's needs. You can have a check list of if mum has had her day off with no cooking and cleaning. Has dad had his day off of watching sport and reading the paper, uninterrupted?"

Younger children would love having a chart on the fridge to mark off what treats mum and dad want over the holidays.

"Kids have their own charts, but it would be great for mum and dad to have one for a change," says Vivian.

Looking at the bigger picture - for you, your partner and your family as a whole is a great way to get perspective when deciding what you want out of this year's festive season.

"As mothers it's easier to think of others before ourselves, but if we thing 'how would I want my child to behave when she/ =he is a mother/ father what would I want for them as parents at Christmas time?" If we can apply that to us, then we are doing well."

Practical tips-

  • Do a family brain storm: Ask your partner and kids what your hopes and expectations are for this Christmas season and see how you can help each other meet these.
  • Be kind to yourself: Run that bubble bath, put a do not disturb sign on the door and have a long soak with a magazine for half an hour - the world will not end.
  • Put your partner first: He/she might not be perfect, but you love each other and you love your kids, make the time to reconnect.
  • Delegate: It may not be done exactly how you would, but if the kids make their own beds, tidy the lounge and help clean up the kitchen, it will save time for family activities.
  • Be open to your kids' ideas: It might sting a little to hear it, but if your 10-year-old does point out you tend to spend a lot of time obsessing about seating arrangements and the table setting - time that could be used better, they may have a point.
  • Accept you are not perfect and that is ok:  accept that you don't have to be perfect and relax.
  • It's ok to say no: If you have planned to have a bubble bath and a friend calls to have a chat about her trip to Tauranga and what they are doing there, tell her diplomatically you can't talk and stick to your plan.
  • If you need professional help, get it: If you and your partner try to communicate, but are battling to find common ground, then be honest with yourself and eachother and find someone who you can talk to.

Essential Mums